There are a variety of pastoral responses to what is happening in our nation right now. Many of them are helpful, others less so. One response that I hear often is that pastors shouldn’t talk politics. “Too controversial. You might offend parishioners.”
Of course there is some wisdom in this counsel. Anyone prone to controversy for the sake of it is unfit for pastoral ministry (2 Tim. 2:24). Pastors must absolutely be careful and discerning when wading into waters deemed controversial in society.
At the same time, however, refusing to address a topic purely because it is “controversial,” is not a standard we find anywhere in scripture. I would argue we encounter the exact opposite, actually. After all, are not some of our strongest convictions “controversial” according to the world? Is not sin controversial? Is not denying yourself and picking up your cross daily to follow Jesus controversial? Are not the horrors and realities of hell controversial?
Furthermore, why do we not apply this standard to all other issues that might be considered “political” and controversial. For example, abortion, issues of gender and sexuality, religious liberty (which is not commanded in scripture). All of these are topics that evangelical Christians speak strongly about (and often I agree). But why aren’t these topics off limits?
Is it perhaps because some topics happen to align with our preferred partisan leanings (or those of our people), while others, though equally biblical, could rub those on “our side” of the political divide the wrong way? I don’t think this is a stretch.
All truth is God’s truth. Even in politics.
If we want to be biblical in our Christian ethics, however, pastors and Christian leaders cannot shy away from any aspect of the truth, even when it enters the political realm, and even when it speaks strongly to one side of the political aisle. After all, all truth is God’s truth, is it not? Jesus is Lord over all of life, is he not? Our Christian ethics do not change simply because they fall under the umbrella of “political,” do they?
If this is true, then pastors must wade into these waters from time to time. If we fail to do so, we create a hole in our discipleship. And I would argue that what we are witnessing right now around our nation – the ungodly mixture of right-wing political extremism and the name of our Lord Jesus – this phenomenon has arisen precisely because of our failure to disciple properly in this arena.
Just look at the tweets and facebook posts of some of the most prominent voices in evangelical circles. Some of them range from subtle nods to the president’s behavior, to “what-abouts” directed at the “other side,” all the way up to complete justification and endorsement of his lies. Brothers and sisters, this should not be so.
On the other hand we find leaders quiet and unwilling to engage the issue head on. They might address adjacent issues, but are unwilling to move any further than this. Unfortunately, this does not lead our people toward holiness any more than a parent teaching their children about substance abuse, but not showing them how to avoid actual addiction by living a healthy life.
Holes don’t remain that way for long.
Here is the thing about holes in our discipleship. They don’t remain holes for very long. Holes create vacuums and eventually they are filled with something. And unfortunately, decades of failing to disciple people in a way that include a faithful and robust understanding of Christian witness through politics has created a situation where many Christians are content to be discipled by the likes of talk radio hosts, partisan news sources, and loud, angry voices on social media.
And this is where it has led us. Crosses and “Jesus Saves” flags among those storming the U.S. capitol with Christian music playing in the background while blood is shed and lives are lost. We should mourn this reality.
Not without hope.
At the same time, we do not mourn as ones without hope (1 Thes. 4:13). Holes in our discipleship can be filled. Jesus, who is the Truth, can reign even in places where we previously have held him out.
It will take intentionality, however. Idols don’t put themselves to death. Sinful attitudes need to addressed in love. Repentance must come. A desire to see Jesus more victorious than our political team must reign supreme in our hearts and minds. And speaking the truth in love must be our vehicle to get there.
Pastor-friends, there are many ways to respond to what is happening in our nation. Many of them are right, and some of them are not. It is not my job to tell you what this looks like in your church and among your people (and trust me I understand if social media is not your preferred medium to address these issues), but my one ask is this: Don’t choose silence, and don’t choose selective, lop-sided discipleship.
The stakes are too high, faithful discipleship is too important, and the name and glory of Jesus are too valuable to allow continued misrepresentation in the world. The world is hungry for true “salt-and-light” Christians. The question is are we willing to be one?